Organizers say around 50,000 Russians have turned out to a protest against the rule of President Vladimir Putin. Police put the number at a fraction of that figure.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Moscow for a major protest against the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The demonstration is the first since President Putin signed into law last week new regulations that increased the fines for failing to comply with Russia’s strict rules on organizing and taking part in protests by as much as 150 percent.
This rally, which comes on Russia's national holiday, is also the first major opposition rally since the demonstrations on May 6, which took place a day before Putin’s inauguration for his third term as president. That protest ended in fierce clashes between police and some of the protesters.
An investigation into the events of May 6 is ongoing, and on Monday, police searched the homes of several leading activists involved in that rally. The fact that they were also summoned for questioning shortly before Tuesday’s demonstration was scheduled to start sparked accusations that the authorities had done so in an effort to nip it in the bud.
Not all obeyed their summons though. Opposition politician Sergei Udaltsov said on the microblogging website Twitter that he had ignored the summons as he considered it his duty to lead the demonstration.
Udaltsov claimed that 50,000 people had turned out to the protests, but police put the figure at around 10,000.
President Putin used a televised speech to mark the national holiday to play down the protests against his rule.
"Such heated discussions are the norm for a free democratic country and this is the path that our people have chosen," Putin said.
"It is important to listen and respect each other," he added, but warned that "for us, anything that hurts the country and divides society is unacceptable."
Tuesday’s protest was authorized by the city authorities, however observers said any deviation from the agreed location or timeframe could lead to a crackdown by police.
pfd/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)